How to Build a “Back to School Toolkit” for Parents (Part 2 of 2)

by | Aug 25, 2020


Last week, we shared a high level overview  of how data should guide your school to excellence through the following steps:

  1. Develop a clear vision.
  2. Identify high priority, measurable goals.
  3. Create a focused action plan.
  4. Regularly evaluate progress toward meeting your school’s goals.

Now let’s take a deeper look at how and why data should drive your school’s decision making processes.

Data contributes toward continuous improvement through accountability.

Continuous improvement refers to the idea that progress toward your school’s goals should be tracked over time. Teachers and school leaders should evaluate student growth more frequently than just once at the end of each school year, or even at the end of each learning unit. By collecting data from students and teachers regularly throughout the school year, schools can measure progress and adapt the curriculum and instructional strategies in real time to respond to students’ needs.

School leaders must support teachers’ continuous improvement efforts by:

  • Ensuring teachers know what data to collect, how to collect it, and how frequently to do so
  • Visually exhibiting student achievement data for all teachers to evaluate in collaboration
  • Informing teachers about how data should be used to plan instruction
  • Allocating designated time for grade-level teams to discuss the collected data and develop curriculum, instruction, and assessments

Regular, collaborative discussions about student achievement data in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) build accountability for teachers to contribute toward the school’s continuous improvement efforts. Additionally, these cooperative discussions help PLCs to take collective responsibility for student growth, rather than labeling students as “mine” and “yours.” Researchers continue to find evidence that excellent schools demonstrate a culture of collective responsibility for student learning.

Data informs priorities.

School leaders have nearly countless challenges to face, from high teacher turnover rates to student behavior issues to outdated technology. Unfortunately, when schools try to solve all of these problems at once, teachers and leaders alike are left without a coherent approach to the continuous improvement process. Battelle for Kids reports that excellent schools use data from a variety of sources to narrow their focus to just three or fewer student growth strategies. Next, schools must provide professional development to support the implementation of the chosen strategies.

When districts and schools review their budgets to find more effective uses of funding, they often cut back on professional development first. Leaders may believe professional development topics can be covered in the first few days of school when teachers come back from summer break. However, the Learning Policy Institute’s 2017 report evaluating thirty-five studies on professional development finds that the most effective professional development strategy for teachers:

  • Actively engages teachers in new strategies by embedding the learning into their work
  • Includes regular coaching and expert support
  • Allows time for teachers to reflect upon their work, seek feedback, and make changes

Professional development should help teachers’ practice using data to inform their instruction, assessments, and other decisions to address the unique needs of all students. This requires consistent, regular training and coaching.

Data promotes educational equity.

Schools should evaluate disaggregated data to identify equity gaps and underserved student groups which need more support. Disaggregated data can help Professional Learning Communities better understand the needs of:

  • Students in various socioeconomic groups
  • Students of various races and ethnicities
  • English Language Learners (ELLs)
  • Exceptional or Special Education (SPED) students
  • Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) students
  • Other subpopulations which may fall through the cracks in aggregated data

This information helps schools, select curriculum which ensures all students’ needs are addressed, instead of using a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Excellent schools also implement Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) to ensure resources and supports are available to support the academic and behavioral needs of all students.

Building Your School’s Capacity for Data-Driven Decision Making

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions creates customized professional development solutions for schools and districts which need support in building their capacity to make data-driven decisions. Our expert consultants focus on student achievement in literacy and mathematics to help your school move from “good” to “excellent.Schedule a free call with us to discuss how we can partner with your school leaders and teachers to transform your student outcomes.